Historic City News has been following consistently false and misleading representations by St Augustine City Manager, John P. Regan, Sr., accused of portraying a false sense of urgency surrounding his commitment for the City to purchase lots on Coquina Avenue at top-of-the-market price.
This commitment by Regan, made for an amount way beyond that which he is authorized to spend without prior approval of the city commission, was made during the Christmas – New Year’s break. He wrote to the listing agent, “The property is of high interest to the City for a variety of reasons,” but the commission and the public did not know about it. The letter, which implies the existence of another anxious “bidder”, was to his friend, Samuel “Troy” Blevins, who is acting as a local real estate agent for the seller.
When publicly presented for the first time to the commission, on Monday January 14, 2019, Regan put Public Works Director Michael Cullum on the agenda to present the $459,000.00 purchase in Item 7-B; Items of Great Public Importance. Tied to the announcement was Cullum’s presentation on the ongoing “Resiliency, Adaptation and Sustainability Program”, which led to a discussion of the “potential” Coquina Avenue land acquisition.
The use of the word “potential” – after the city manager has done everything short of depositing a binder on the property – seems contrived to play down the severity of Regan’s unauthorized actions prior to a required public discussion before the commission.
Cullum’s take, as the holder of a professional engineer’s license, was that the city’s purchase of this property was necessary to achieve “legal access to the outfall” which is part of the storm water system for that neighborhood; access which the city did not currently have.
That was a lie. The City and its lawyer now admit that it has recorded easements as well as the ability to obtain any temporary access necessary to perform maintenance and repairs to the stormwater system. Further, the city manager admitted in Monday night’s commission meeting that the duration for the repairs to the outfall, a basin for greywater collected from street runoff in that section, would only take “about a week“.
Cullum harped on resiliency to sea level rise, adaptive solutions to sunny-day flooding, and a sustainability program that somehow got re-prioritized, to create the false conclusion that the City of St Augustine must buy the private property at 91-93 Coquina Avenue.
Cullum proposed that an “earthen berm” could be built on the lots in such a way as to protect residents from further damage from rising water. The damage from Hurricane’s Irma and Michael still fresh in the audience’s minds, Cullum’s remarks unfairly gave hope to the injured (some twice within one-year) that somehow Regan’s half-million-dollar purchase scheme for 91-93 Coquina Avenue held the answer to their prayers.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, Commissioner Leanna Freeman who was involved in the instigation of this land grab, as well as City Manager Regan, are refocusing their “need” justification to buy this private property. Now they say residents have complained that south Davis Shores lacks a pocket park for the recreational use of its residents.
On investigation, it turns out the City already owns two properties on Coquina. Both lots have marsh views. One of the lots is already a park that the City has failed to maintain. Do you think they’ll do better by taking two more lots off the tax rolls?
Freeman and Regan say the marsh view aspect of these two lots make them ideally suited for a park
A purchase that is not in the budget, not in the strategic plan, and has no priority to get there, should not be paid for from the reserve funds of the City treasury. The fact that the city manager, at the behest of at least one commissioner, attempted to railroad the taxpayers who will ultimately have to pay for their folly, is unconscionable.
When is it ever appropriate for the highest paid employee at City Hall to sweep the truth under the rug and simply hope no one will ask about it? And, when citizens turn out to be smart enough to ask anyway, why would he be allowed to lie and tell half-truths to placate their objections so they will just “go away”?
An example was received by Historic City News from e-mail correspondence between a resident of south Davis Shores and the Mayor. A copy of the complaint was forwarded to the city manager, John Regan, for a response. We received verification from his assistant, Lucy Fountain, that no response to the resident’s complaint exists.
When asked if the resident was ever approached by the City for a construction easement to do the work on the Coquina Avenue outfall, as claimed by Regan during the city commission meeting on Monday February 11th, the mayor received the following response, “No. Never.”
Specifically, the resident wrote “Mr. Regan mistakenly said last night that we were unapproachable or unreasonable? Not true. We still haven’t heard from anyone about just what they are doing.”
As to the ability of the City to request temporary access to the outfall if a week’s repairs were necessary, the homeowner responded, “For 40-years, we have dealt with the creek drainage pipe replacements multiple times, creek maintenance, etc., and have been cooperative.”
The resident concluded, “This project seems out of control with no direction.”